- Elsa Wolcott Martinelli is the main character in the novel, and the story is mainly told from her perspective. A mother to Loreda and Ant, the novel starts while she is at the age of 25, describing herself as a spinster.
- Loreda Martinelli is the daughter of Rafe and Elsa Martinelli. She is initially depicted to have a strained relationship with her mother, but she later learns to appreciate her mother’s inner strength
- Jack Valen is a labor activist involved in a romantic relationship with Elsa. He is a member of the Workers Alliance, a communist party organization, and he is charged with organizing on behalf of migrant workers.
The Four Winds is a historical fiction that recounts a survival story centered on a mother and daughter. The events in the book reflect a sense of pioneering spirit and resilience that is bespoke with determination, love for self, love for family, survival, and the American Dream. The story is set during the Dust Bowl period a few years after the Great Depression in the Great Plains, painting suffering, poverty, and famine.
Elsa Wolcott, the main character in the novel, is introduced to the audience as a 25-year old whose family does not support her goals to join college neither do they consider her attractive to be married. Elsa later gets into a romantic relationship with Rafaello Martinelli, an Italian Migrant leading to her first pregnancy. Elsa’s parents compel Rafaello into marrying Elsa to preserve their family’s reputation, and twelve years into her marriage, she bears her second born, Anthony Martinelli.
While living with her husband and in-laws, Elsa overcomes her frailties and redefines herself as one hard-working farm wife. The preceding ravaging droughts on the Great Plains resulted in many people migrating to the west. Rafaello is among those who decide to leave, abandoning his family behind. It takes Anthony’s contraction of dust pneumonia for Elsa to resolve to leave the farm for California.
The Martinellis hopes of finding a better life are quickly dashed as they arrive at the realities of the discrimination channeled towards migrants from the Great Plains. Unable to find shelter, Elsa and her family end up living in the Squatter’s camp.
Loreda’s dissatisfaction with the camp’s sordid life grows, resulting in her meeting labor organizer Jack Valen who impresses her with his ideals. Jack successfully convinces Loreda to return back home, and their reunification begins the acquaintanceship between Elsa and Jack. When the floods destroy the squatters’ camp, Jack helps Elsa and her family find shelter in an abandoned hotel.
Later, Jack would help Elsa find permanent residency in the Welty farms, at which point Elsa soon realizes how workers at the farm are enslaved under the burden of debt. All along, Jack had been persuading Elsa to join labor organizers to no success until the death of Jean Dewey, a friend to Elsa, marking her turning point. Through their joint effort in labor organization, Elsa and Jack begin a romantic relationship.
However, this would not last long as Mr. Welty, the farm owner, confronts the labor organizers leading to the death of Elsa. Loreda decides to bury her mother in Texas at the Martinelli family farm. Visiting her mother’s grave at the age of 18 as she is set to join a college in California, Loreda comes to appreciate her mother’s warrior spirit and vows to carry her dreams through.
The American Dream
Rose and Tony Martinellis are an accurate representation of the early 20th-century embodiment of the American dream. They arrived as immigrants with scarce resources to America and became successful farmers through hard work and dedication. Even in the face of severe famine and sand storms, they still believe that hardship is a natural component of life and that they would overcome the challenges by faith.
The American dream takes another form with Elsa and her children’s journey to California in search of a better life. In contrast, they find capitalist greed, poverty, and prejudice that make it impossible for the refugees to succeed. It is no surprise that Jack recounts communism as the new American way that would guarantee equal opportunities to everyone.
Strength and Resilience
Throughout the novel is a depiction of hardships ranging from physical to emotional. The Great Plains migrants have to contend with poverty, grief, loss, and hunger, and through it all, their level of resilience is unmatched. Despite the prejudice Elsa has to face at the PTA meetings in California, she finds within herself the resolve to feed both her family and the Deweys.
Another remarkable demonstration of resilience is depicted by the acts of kindness and connection that the Martinellis find in California. A case example is when Betty Anne, the hairdresser, decides to offer Elsa and her family a free haircut and donate a box of old clothes to them.
Love and Family
In the Novel, the family is depicted as a source of either comfort or hurt. Elsa is isolated and repressed by her family, who spare no effort to prove that she is ugly and too sick to stand for herself. However, when Elsa moves in with the Martinellis, she is awash with Tony and Rose’s love, teaching her to be strong, independent, and capable.
Towards the end of Elsa’s life, she appreciates the importance of love having reconciled with Loreda and finding new love with Jack. The feeling of being appreciated in her environment sparks her courage to stand up and speak at the strikers’ rally.
Jack recounts to Elsa that in fear of their circumstances, humans are prone to direct their frustrations to the easiest of targets, which in this case are the Great Plains refugees. Rather than being viewed as fellow Americans, the Great Plain migrants were viewed as invaders and termed the derogatory name of “Okies.”
Due to the discrimination, the migrants are only left to attend to seasonal agricultural labor, making them vulnerable to manipulation of wealthy crop growers.
Hannah, K. (2020). The Four Winds: A Novel. St. Martin’s Publishing Group.